By Inés San Martín
ROME (Crux) – Ahead of a summit of presidents of bishops’ conferences and other Church officials in Rome Feb. 21-24 on clerical sexual abuse and child protection, voices from around the world are emphasizing that it’s a global problem requiring a global solution.
For instance, Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera of Monterrey, Mexico, president of the country’s bishops’ conference, said on Feb. 10 that in the past nine years, 152 priests have been removed from ministry in his country due to sexual abuse allegations.
“Some delinquent priests are in jail, others have been suspended from their priestly ministry,” he said at the Feb. 10 press conference.
Though he didn’t disclose the number of people who’ve been sexually abused by priests, he did say that he’s met with several of them in recent days.
Archbishop Cabrera is scheduled to attend the February summit.
Commitment to Survivors
In Spain, where new cases of clerical sexual abuse are coming to light regularly, there’s a group of professionals, both lay and religious, who see the encounter with survivors and victims as more than a request in preparation for the meeting.
Earlier this month, a group of educators, psychologists, doctors, journalists and experts on both civil and canon law created the association Betania (Bethany).
As its president Maria Teresa Compte told Crux on Feb. 11, the association was formed “organically,” as part of a process to guarantee that the work these people were doing autonomously had a continuation in time.
Betania is inspired by and recognizes the principles of the Church’s doctrine, but is constituted independently, without being subject to any ecclesiastical discipline.
Composed of mostly lay men and women, “our commitment is with the victims, they are the reason of our existence: a personal and professional commitment with people who’ve suffered abuse within a specific context, that speaks to us.”
All those involved in Betania, Compte said, are moved by their commitment to survivors, and they work in accompanying victims so that they become “protagonists, can progressively become aware of what they lived, but also of their abilities and resources, freeing themselves from the feeling of guilt that the aggressors transferred onto them and recovering their own existence.”
Overcoming Institutional Reputation
Compte is the director of the Master’s program in the Social Doctrine of the Church in Salamanca’s Pontifical University. Speaking about the bishops’ meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse ahead of the summit in Rome, she said that she doesn’t give advice, but that it’s important to remember that survivors “are members of our family.”
“The people who were abused within the Church, are people who were abused in our home: in schools, rectories, or in very sacred environments, such as processes of spiritual accompaniment, vocational discernment, in seminaries, in the confessional,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to encounter victims, to sit in front of them, look at them in the eye, hear their truth… this is opening to God. It’s a mystery, because on the one hand, it’s opening to evil, but on the other hand, it’s the mystery of the resurrection.”
“And what’s the problem? That victims are angry? No, the problem is what they’ve suffered through,” she said. “We mustn’t be afraid of victims, but we have to be afraid of the aggressors, because we have to fear evil, not the people who’ve had evil done unto them.”
Compte also said that the entire ecclesial community is called to question if it’s sufficiently sensitized when it comes to this issue, including lay people. “I think we still need to have that ‘click,’ overcome the idea of the institutional reputation.”
Pope Francis called for the meeting in September, summoning the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and representatives of the leadership groups of men and women religious orders to the Vatican.
Since the pope’s announcement, there have been attempts to downplay the meeting’s importance, with Pope Francis himself saying that he wanted to “deflate” expectations, saying it will mostly be about transmitting a “catechesis” on the “drama” of abuse.
According to the pontiff, his advisory cabinet first discussed the possibility of the meeting last year after seeing that there are bishops who still don’t know what to do when cases of clerical sexual abuse arise.
Their three-day gathering in Rome, then, will become a platform to make the “drama of children who’ve been abused” comprehensible to every bishop, he said, not only for those where the scandals have already exploded.